|Judge Carole Smitherman|
Have an Alabama judge and her legislator husband been caught red-handed accepting cash payments in exchange for court rulings that benefit individuals and entities tied to one of the state's largest, most ethically challenged law firms? The answer appears to be yes, according to a document recently filed with the Alabama Supreme Court in a case styled Burt W. Newsome and Newsome Law, LLC v. Clark A. Cooper and Balch Bingham, et al.
At the heart of the Newsome case are allegations that Cooper, a former partner at the downtown-Birmingham office of Balch Bingham, engineered a conspiracy to frame Newsome for a crime (menacing) in Shelby County, which was to put Newsome's law license at risk, allowing Cooper and associates to pilfer chunks of Newsome's lucrative collections business with several banks.
Judge Smitherman's handling of the Newsome lawsuit involves numerous foul-smelling oddities, but these two stand out:
(1) Before retiring in January 2019, Shelby County Presiding Judge Hewitt L. "Sonny" Conwill issued an order reversing an expungement of Newsome's record in the menacing case. Conwill, however, never entered the order in the State Judicial Information System (SJIS), and Newsome contends that makes the ruling void, a "non-order," as a matter of law. Judge Smitherman proceeded to rely on the Conwill "counterfeit order" to grant summary judgment in favor of the Balch defendants and impose more than $190,000 in sanctions against Newsome under the Alabama Litigation Accountability Act (ALAA). Newsome argues that Smitherman's rulings should be vacated and she should be recused from the case.
(2) Smitherman's rulings, favoring Balch and trashing Newsome, are grossly unsupported by facts, as banbalch.com noted in a January 2019 post:
Smitherman approved over $192,000 in redacted attorney fees against Burt Newsome. In other words, Newsome and his legal team were given bills that were blacked-out, they couldn’t read, and then told to pay up. . . .
This is more than a miscarriage of justice against Newsome.
This is a horn, a loud horn exposing to the world what unconscionable and unsavory depths to which Balch and Bingham and its stooges will allegedly go to destroy the rule of law and to carry on an arrogant march of defiance with impunity.
How did Judge Smitherman, and her husband, become such stooges for Balch? A chart that Newsome includes in his reply brief provides the likely answer. (The chart is embedded at the end of this post, and it can be found on page 19 of the reply brief, which also is embedded at the end of this post.). Let's break down the chart and see just how unsavory activities can get in the "Alabama Justice System":
I. Date: 7/26/17
A. Payments to Smithermans: Judge Smitherman's husband receives $2,500 from Alabama Power PAC -- then run by former Balch partner Alexia Bolden.
B. Act, Oder, or Context: Smitherman grants Balch's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's complaint 29 days before the scheduled hearing on the motion.
II. Date: 8/31/17
A. Payments to Smithermans: Judge Smitherman's husband receives $2,500 from Hare, Wynn, Newell Newton -- the attorneys for, and employer of, a witness adverse to Newsome. First money ever from Hare Wynn to Rodger Smitherman.
B. Act, Order, or Context: Judge Smitherman orders the entire case file be sealed at Balch's request. Judge Smitherman's husband starts attending closed-door, sealed hearings on this case, inside his wife's courtroom.
III. Date: 11/1/17
A. Payments to Smithermans: NEWPAC, run by former Balch attorney Clark Fine, provides its first ever $5,000 to Judge Smitherman's husband.
B. Act, Order, or Context: Balch files Motion for Attorney Fee Award against Newsome.
IV. Date: 11/16/17
A. Payments to Smithermans: BIPAC, also run by former Balch attorney Clark Fine, provides $5,000 to Judge Smitherman's husband.
B. Act, Order, or Context: Judge Smitherman denies Plaintiff's Motion to Stay Case Pending a Ruling by the Alabama Supreme Court on the "Order" that was Never Entered into the SJIS.
V. Date: 12/4/17
A. Payments to Smithermans: NEWPAC, run by former Balch attorney Clark Fine, provides a second $5,000 to Judge Smitherman's husband. He does not report the contribution until 4/4/18 on his campaign-finance report.
B. Act. Order, or Context: Balch files Motion to Disallow the Testimony of (Robert) Serrett and (John) Manning, showing a single phone number that appears to tie the Balch conspirators together was from a pre-paid "burner" cell phone. The number is (205) 410-1494.
VI. Date: 2/6/18
A. Payments to Smithermans: Andrew Campbell enters the case as counsel for Balch and gives his first ever $2,000 to Judge Smitherman.
B: Act, Order or Context: Balch files its objection to Newsome's Renewed Motion to Stay Case Pending a Ruling by the Alabama Supreme Court on the "Order" that was Never Entered Into the SJIS.
The Balch defendants present a convenient argument for this money trail that appears tied to favorable judicial orders. But Newsome's reply brief suggests the Balch contentions should not fly very far: From the brief:
The [Balch] assertions that Judge Smitherman needed campaign contributions, as judges are forced to run in "partisan elections" is inpplicable to the case at bar as neither Judge Smitherman nor her husband had any opposition in their respective races, the contributions were made while motions were pending and at critical times in the case, they were made by numerous entities who had never contributed to the Smithermans before this case, and the contributions were substantial. Also, the appearance of State Senator Rodger Smitherman at multiple sealed hearings in the case after he had received substantial sums from entities associated with the Appellees/Defendants creates an even further impression of bias and improprieties.